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Slip and Fall on Private Property

Injuries sustained in slip-and-fall accidents on private property – whether at a big box store or your neighbor’s garage – are compensable through a legal principle known as premises liability. The idea is property owners and operators owe a duty to lawful guests to maintain the site in reasonably safe condition. As our Miami slip-and-fall accident attorneys can explain, the expected level of care can fluctuate depending on the designation of the visitor.

In general, slip-and-fall claims stemming from private property accidents are less convoluted than those that occurred on public property. Private property owners do not have the benefits or protection of sovereign immunity, strict notice requirements or damage caps that limit liability. That does not mean these claims are a slam-dunk. Just because you fell and were hurt does not mean you will be entitled to damages. In fact, these cases are often more complex than people realize.

Slip-and-fall claims are the most common form of premises liability because walking surfaces are so commonly perilous. You have a right to expect when entering a business or other private property that you will be walking into a reasonably safe environment.

You can potentially show a property owner is liable if you can prove there was a defective condition on the site and it caused your injuries. You must show the property owner/ operator:

  • Owed you a duty of care. (This will generally extend to people who are lawfully on site).
  • Breached that duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining, inspecting or repairing its property and failed to warn about that dangerous condition.
  • Caused your injuries by breaching that duty of care.

In some cases, there may be more than one party liable for slip-and-fall accidents. For example, if your injury occurs on a commercial property, there might be some degree of liability by both the owner of the property and the commercial lessor.

Some examples of private property sites where slip-and-falls may occur:

  • Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Theaters
  • Stadiums
  • Theme parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Retirement homes
  • Workplaces
  • Private homes

If you have suffered serious injury as a result of a fall in one of these locations, an experienced attorney can help.

Property Owner Duty of Care

All property owners have a responsibility to keep their sites reasonably safe for those who lawfully enter. However, there are varying degrees of duty, depending on the purpose of the victim’s visit. These are:

  • Invitees
  • Licensees
  • Trespassers

Shoppers at a store are considered “business invitees,” on site for the benefit of the property owner. They are owed the highest duty of care. That means maintaining the site in reasonably safe condition, warning of dangers and correcting those hazards within a reasonable time. There are also “public invitees,” who are invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.

A traveling salesman coming to your Miami home to sell you knives would be considered a “licensee.” He may be lawfully on site, but for his own benefit. The Florida Supreme Court defined licensees in the 1953 case of Stewart v. Texas Co. The court ruled that when a property owner allows someone to enter for the guest’s convenience, there is no duty except not to harm the guest willfully or wantonly or to set traps or recklessly expose the guest to danger. There is no requirement that property owners be active or vigilant.

Trespassers,” meanwhile, have no lawful purpose on site. They enter the site without any license or rite or invitation or apparent purpose. (See Post v. Lunney, Florida Supreme Court, 1972). For licensees and trespassers, property owners must refrain from setting traps or recklessly exposing them to dangers.

Slip-and-Fall Statute

These designations are guidelines that tell our slip-and-fall accident Miami attorneys what kind of proof we’re going to need to prevail. Another element to consider is the legislative provision laid forth in Florida Statute 768.0755, which is the state’s standard for premises liability when there is a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment.

The law requires that if a fall at a business occurs because of a “transitory foreign substance,” (a slippery substance that isn’t supposed to be there), plaintiff must show the business/ employees had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition. Actual knowledge would mean they were informed about that particular hazard existing in that location at that time. More likely what your attorney will pursue is constructive knowledge, which is proven through circumstantial evidence. It requires showing either:

  • The condition existed for long enough that, had the business or employees been exercising ordinary care, they would have discovered the condition;
  • The condition occurred so frequently it was foreseeable.

Previously, state statute only required plaintiffs to prove the business or property owner was in possession or control and acted negligently by failing to exercise reasonable care. It was expressly explained that actual or constructive notice was not a required element. The law changed in 2010.

It should be noted that if a slip-and-fall occurs in a hospital or nursing home setting, a whole different set of criteria may be applicable. Not all hospital slip-and-fall accidents are a form of medical malpractice, which requires a far higher proof burden than ordinary negligence. It will depend largely on whether plaintiff was a patient receiving care and whether the fall arose out of that care.

Recreational Use Statute

There is one protection that private property owners may enjoy, if they invite the public onto their land. That is the state’s Recreational Use Statute, Florida Statute 375.251.

Basically, the law says that if you make your land available to the public for outdoor recreational purposes free-of-charge, your liability to third parties is limited. Those who enter are not entitled to a presumption that the site is safe for any purpose, and the property owner doesn’t incur a duty of care to those who enter.

The idea of the statute is to try to encourage people to make their private land available for public use. However, if there is evidence the property owner was profiting in any manner from this, they may not be protected in a slip-and-fall accident claim by the Recreational Use Statute.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, please contact the Miami Accident Attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., for a free consultation by calling (305) 371-6000 or using our online contact form.

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